Angry at the Catholic Church

person holding up angry mask

The Language of Righting Wrongs

The other night at my Spanish class I saw a woman I knew, but I couldn’t remember where I’d met her. So I introduced myself and we did that thing where you both list all your affiliations and social activities, looking for anything that connects.

One of the activities I mentioned was my work with SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests). Her eyes lit up. She said she’d never heard of SNAP, so I told her about the group and it’s work with survivors. And naturally, she was curious how I got involved with that group.

Priest Abuse – the Issue We All Agree On

As happens with most people who hear my story, before long we were discussing the systemic problem of priest abuse in the Catholic Church. It is one of the most unifying topics in the world today. Everyone is appalled by what’s been going on, what continues to occur.

“Aren’t you angry?” she said. “I’m angry. Children are still being abused by priests even though the Pope speaks of zero tolerance.”

Admitting I’m Angry at the Catholic Church

My first inclination is always to say no, I am no longer angry about how the church treated me. Anger isn’t an emotion I cherish or want to carry in me. I don’t want to fight the church, change it, or mend it. I have already given enough to it. I want to help and support others in healing from abuse and betrayal by sharing the ways I have accomplished this in my life. But … yes, it’s there.


From the American Psychological Association

“Anger is “an emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage,” according to Charles Spielberger, PhD, a psychologist who specializes in the study of anger. Like other emotions, it is accompanied by physiological and biological changes; when you get angry, your heart rate and blood pressure go up, as do the levels of your energy hormones, adrenaline, and noradrenaline.”

I dislike falling prey to that powerless sense of rage that so much of our news seems designed to evoke. When I’m dissatisfied, I much prefer taking action or having a serious conversation to try to make things better.

And yet anger is a sign of life and energy. In that regard, it’s what jump starts us into resolve and determination to right wrongs and make things better. That is the kind of anger I believe in.

So I said I wasn’t angry, that disgusted is how I feel about the Church’s continuing role in harming and not protecting children. But perhaps that’s just parsing words.


According to the psychological research group Emotionwise:

“Disgust is an emotion marked by aversion to something that is highly distasteful. Related to disgust are feelings of repulsion, abhorrence, loathing, revulsion, and sickness.

When people feel disgust, they experience a strong impulse to avoid the item that caused them to feel that way.”

I’ll admit that, on occasion I do let my disgust with the church become anger at the church. For instance, when I hear things like the Pope is working to release a pedophile priest from prison, or has chosen a bishop who has protected priest offenders as one of his advisers, I just get mad. Still, it’s an anger mixed with disgust, aversion and loathing. It affirms my desire to never again be apart of such dysfunction and illness.

I’m Not Alone in Feeling Disgusted By the Catholic Church

Under the category Disgusting, The Daily Beast published an article this week entitled How Sicko Priests Got Away With It. Here are some excerpts. If they don’t disgust you, they may make you angry.

The details of the abuse may change, running the gamut from fondling and masturbation to full penetration and child pornography, but the pattern is largely the same: very few abusers ever face criminal courts, and only a scant few face Vatican justice.

Last year the Vatican admitted that it had defrocked 848 priests between 2004 and 2013, without specifying where they are from. The number is small in relation to the total number of known allegations and proven abuses kept by victims’ groups.

The American Church is thought to have the highest number of cases, an assumption supported by the fact it has paid out the astronomical sum of $2.5 billion in compensation to victims through legal settlements, according to Vatican records released to the United Nations last year. It also paid some $74 million in counseling services and about $50 million in legal fees, according to Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s Geneva envoy who faced a United Nations Committee on Torture last May.

“There’s no climate of impunity,” Tomasi told the U.N. panel. “There’s total commitment to clean the house, to work to not have a repetition of abuses.”

If that’s the case, then why don’t dioceses do more to help the state protect the children and prosecute their abusers?

According to Tomasi’s records, there are fewer than 150 priests—current and defrocked—known to be in jails for sex abuse worldwide right now. But that figure begs the question: where are the rest? “Of the proven, admitted and credibly accused child molesting clerics, some are deceased, a few are imprisoned, a few live in church facilities and are allegedly monitored,” David Clohessy, the head of the Survivors Network for Those Abused By Priests or SNAP told The Daily Beast. “But we believe the vast majority have never been defrocked, so they keep collecting church paychecks while living and working among unsuspecting families, neighbors, and colleagues, while also working hard to stay beneath the radar.”

If Clohessy is right then there are a great many known pedophile priests wandering around the world who still have access to minors, not just in the United States, but across Europe and elsewhere as well.”

Yes, there’s plenty there to justify our feeling angry with the Catholic church. But whether you say you’re angry at the church, as my friend does, or identify the way you feel as disgust, like me, you likely agree the church is sunk in a deplorable situation. So find a way to express your discontent and join us in working together to hold priests and bishops accountable for these things that royally piss us off.

Unabashed Book Promotion: My Memoir, SPLIT is Here!

Tooting the horn for SPLIT

cover of SPLIT by Mary DispenzaI’m very happy to announce that my memoir, SPLIT : A child, a priest, and the Catholic Church is now available. The ebook is available from most online booksellers. The triumphant cherub on the cover is blowing her horn just in time for the holiday season.

Though SPLIT deals with the difficult subject of childhood priest abuse, my story also involves some very interesting insights ,from my years as a nun, into the workings of the Catholic Church. And perhaps best of all, there’s a happy ending!

My aim in writing SPLIT was to weave enough hope into the story to leave the reader uplifted, rather than depressed and wanting to hide under the covers. I think I succeeded and I know you’ll enjoy the book.

Here’s where you can buy SPLIT

You can purchase both the ebook and the paperback now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powell’s City of Books, the iBook store and other online booksellers.

The Launch Party

If you’re in the area of Bellevue, Washington on November 23rd, please come help me. Friends, family and fans joined me for the official launch of SPLIT at the University Book Store on November 23, 2014. We had a great time.

Get future news and book announcements the easy way

My plan is to keep everyone up to date on what I’m doing during this exciting book launch season. You can use the handy form below to subscribe to updates to my blog, where I share news and opinion on the ongoing priest abuse scandal, helpful information for survivors, and ideas for anyone who wants to help bring the epidemic of child abuse to an end. You’ll also automatically receive messages about publication developments, events I’m attending, where you can buy the book and special gifts. And many thanks for reading!

Happy Veterans Day – To all kinds of veterans

toddler and flags

If you think about it, the veterans we honor this Veterans Day are actually survivors. They have come through terrific conflicts, hardships, pain, injury, devastating losses of comrades. Theirs is a vast sacrifice and they deserve every ounce of honor and support we can give them, on this day and any other.

But as we watch parades and take part in celebrations, we need to remember that there are all kinds of veterans and after the marching bands fall silent and the bunting comes down, some veterans need help.

Like soldiers who’ve survived wars, survivors of abuse are veterans. They too have been through conflicts and into untold depths of agony and despair. They too have faced staggering losses.

Survivors and veterans are prey to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD

PTSD strikes those who have survived a terrifying physical or emotional event. Not everyone who survives such an event develops PTSD, but enough combat veterans and victims of abuse do experience extreme symptoms from the trauma, that PTSD has become a well known condition.

A couple of data points about PTSD

  • More than 3 million children in the US are believed to have PTSD.
  • A major study by the VA, the Surgeon General and the Congressional Research Service estimates at least 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have PTSD. (20% of 2.3 million veterans is 460,000 individuals from these two wars alone who may have PTSD.)

Recovering from PTSD

PTSD is a condition that many live with for years. But it does get better with time and with treatment.

First though, the sufferer has to know the symptoms and then they have to be willing to talk about it. Unfortunately there are some social factors that stand in the way of recovery.

  • For soldiers, it’s the macho factor. The toughness it takes to survive in battle can morph into a refusal to accept that anything is wrong. And the military culture can pressure sufferers to “buck up.”
  • For abused children, the stumbling block is the fear of not being worthy of love. The stories told to them by their abusers lead them to believe it’s all their fault. In an effort to remain lovable, they can internalize and hide their true thoughts and memories for years.

Help for those with PTSD

The National PTSD Center at The Veteran’s Administration

Boston Children’s Hospital

National Institute of Mental Health

Sexual Abuse Rings Flourishing Because They’re Good for Business?

Profiting off sexual abuse rings

It’s time law enforcement and victims groups took a hard look at the operations surrounding sexual abuse rings.

From The Western Daily Press:

“Police chiefs in Wiltshire have made six arrests as part of a major day of action against child sexual exploitation to try to prevent ‘another Rotherham’ happening in the county.


Officers also visited 22 hotels, spoke to 65 taxi drivers and visited six private hire firms to raise awareness of the dangers of child exploitation.”

Sexual abuse rings are an area of sexual abuse with which, thank goodness, I have no familiarity. Unfortunately such groups crop up with disturbing regularity. It strikes me that the same sort of culture may pertain in these rings as that which exists among priests who know of their brother priest’s predilections, yet shield them from the law.

What really caught me in this story though, was the fact that 22 hotels, 65 taxis and 6 car hire firms also seem to be involved in perpetuating the business of these sexual abuse rings. This suggests that these associated businesses knew about, and profited from the activities of the rings.

Oh my.

Read more at Western Daily Press.

On the Confession of Child Abuse

From The Washington Post:

“If someone tells you a child has been abused, the confession doesn’t seem to me a cloak for hiding that business. How can you hear a confession about somebody abusing a child and the matter must be sealed up and you mustn’t talk about it?”

That’s the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, the second highest official in the Anglican Church. He’s actively calling for the end of confidentiality in confessions of sexual crimes against children.

Personally, I think it’s way beyond time for that change in church policy and I applaud the Anglicans. But I suspect not all the faithful will agree with me. There are so many issues and emotions wrapped up in the sacrament of confession – not to mention a great many stand up comedy routines. It will be very hard to pick and choose those crimes that will be protected and those that will not. Some will cry “Slippery Slope,” and claim that there is no clear place to draw the line.

What do you think about the idea of deconfidentializing (to coin a term) confession/reconciliation of crimes against children? It sure would be nice to be able to arrest an abuser after only one child has been harmed rather than 40 or 50 as some priests have been able to manage over their careers in the priesthood before being stopped.

On the other hand, one would presume that this might have a chilling effect of those who would otherwise go ahead and confess this sin. So perhaps the net gain for children is actually zero. Something to think about.

Read the full story at The Washington Post

God Is Not Afraid, But Bishops Are

ruined church

It appears my reluctance to embrace the Vatican’s inclusive new stance on gays was appropriate. Just a week after the initial statement, the bishops backtracked, then watered-down the original wording, then failed to accept even that. And we’re right back where we started.

The AP reported:

Catholic bishops scrapped their landmark welcome to gays Saturday, showing deep divisions at the end of a two-week meeting sought by Pope Francis to chart a more merciful approach to ministering to Catholic families.

The bishops failed to approve even a watered-down section on ministering to homosexuals that stripped away the welcoming tone of acceptance contained in a draft document earlier in the week.


There’s an old saying to the effect that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, while expecting a different result. Despite many attempts to modify things, the Catholic Church remains faithful to its dogma and is unwilling to change. Even when, as is the case in the United States, 30 states have embraced the right of same sex couples to marry, the church is not swayed. Many in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church seem to pride themselves on believing their call is to remain faithful to the teachings of the early church, many of which are out of touch with the everyday Catholics they now serve.

Pope Francis appears to be the most likely person in some time to move the Church forward. Again and again he has proved himself willing to work toward change. In fact, chastising his recalcitrant bishops, he recently declared that “God is not afraid of new things.” Yet, somewhat like the situation that prevails between President Obama and our senate, he finds it difficult to make significant progress within the synod. The conservative block is so powerful.

Sometimes it seems only a mass exodus of the faithful will move the church. I wonder what would happen should all those who believe in embracing gay persons and giving them and divorced Catholics their full rites, leave the Catholic Church? Would it matter to the church leaders? It should!

Until all people do matter, the Church will continue to falter and will never be the Church it is called to be.

John Grisham on child porn: They aren’t ‘real pedophiles’

In an unusual example of book promotion, author John Grisham gave an interview about his novel “Gray Mountain,” that turned instead into a contrarian opinion piece on people who look at child pornography.

From The Washington Post

He defended them.

He described viewing child pornography as an accidental crime easily committed by pushing “the wrong buttons.” He said not all consumers of child porn are sex offenders — some are just guys who developed a passing interest in it while drunk.


He recounted the story of his “good buddy from law school” who got caught up in a Canadian sting operation as an example of judicial excess: “His drinking was out of control, and he went to a website. It was labelled ‘sixteen year old wannabee hookers or something like that’. And it said ’16-year-old girls’. So he went there. Downloaded some stuff — it was 16 year old girls who looked 30. He shouldn’t ’a done it. It was stupid, but it wasn’t 10-year-old boys. He didn’t touch anything.”


Grisham distinguished people who look at child porn from “real pedophiles.” “I have no sympathy for real pedophiles,” he said. “God, please lock those people up. But so many of these guys do not deserve harsh prison sentences, and that’s what they’re getting.”

It’s a sign of just how well entrenched Mr. Grisham is with his readers that he feels comfortable making statements that most authors, careful about their public image, would run from.

While, in general, I agree with Mr. Grisham’s larger point that too many people are going to prison for slight crimes, he sort of stepped all over his own feet in some of these statements.

In particular, I was caught by Grisham’s distinction between looking at 16 year-old girls and 10 year-old boys. I don’t know what to make of this. If his friend were looking at boys, then he’d be an actual pedophile? But since it’s girls it’s just good clean fun? Or, is he saying it’s okay to look at porn featuringv16 year-old girls because puberty has rendered their bodies equivalent to those of 30 year-old women? By his own statement the girls were clearly labeled as underage, so I’m not sure how his friend gets off the hook here.

The balance of the Post article follows up on the idea that sentencing for such crimes may need changing. It’s worth a read.

Read the full article at The Washington Post.

The original interview, which inspired the Post follow up, appeared in The Telegraph.

Is the Catholic Church Stance on Gays Changing?

King 5 News interviewed me about the Vatican’s recent statement that all persons – even gays – deserve to be treated with dignity.

I applaud the words, and absolutely agree. But I do like to see rhetoric followed up with action. And in this case, there’s been no suggestion that doctrinal modifications will be coming. So I’m skeptical that this signals any real change in the official stance on gays.

Some have hailed the announcement as the equivalent of a seismic shift, an earthquake. I don’t think so. Yes, the tone and choice of words have shifted from condemnation to tolerance and inclusion – up to a point. But as as a woman who is lesbian, it is difficult for me to be excited over the Catholic Church finally realizing that I may have some gifts or talents. When I was a nun, before I came out, the church was quite fond of my gift of teaching and my talent for administration. After I came out, these were of no use to them any longer. So to me this appears to be little more than a public relations gambit.

I do look forward to being treated with the promised respect. But, I am still denied the sacrament of matrimony. Divorced Catholics whose marriages have not been annulled are also unable to join the community at the Communion rail and partake in the Eucharist.

A change in language and tone may be a step,but we still have a very long way to go to before gays and divorced couples achieve full inclusion in the sacramental life of the church.

To think it has taken hundreds of years for popes and bishops to speak compassionately to so many people astounds me. How sad that this is being called a historic moment.

Lets all stay tuned, keep actively seeking change, and see what develops.

What do you think of this comment by the church? Is it historic, or more of the same? Please use the comment form to leave your thoughts about the issue.

2 Major Churches, 1 Massive Problem: Pedophile Priests

Archbishop of Canterbury says he deals with sex abuse issues ‘on a daily basis’

From The Independent:

Disgraced vicars convicted of child sex attacks have abused their former Church titles by posing as respected members of society, victims claimed last night, after the Archbishop of Canterbury warned that new cases of abuse by clergy were likely to emerge.

Justin Welby said the Church had to be absolutely transparent, after learning from victims of cover-ups, bungled investigations and the devastating long-term impact of abuse, at a fringe meeting of the Synod of the Church of England.

In an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr, the Archbishop said he dealt with issues of child sex abuse on a daily basis and he anticipated that more “bad stories” would emerge. “I would love to say there weren’t, but I expect there are.” He said that it was “becoming clearer and clearer that for many, many years things were not dealt with as they should.

Read the full article at The Independent: Archbishop of Canterbury warns of more revelations

Pope Francis says child abuse is “leprosy” and 2% of clergy are pedophile priests

From The Independent:

Speaking in an interview with La Repubblica, the Pope said his advisers had tried to “reassure” him that paedophilia within the Church was “at the level of two per cent”.

He pledged that he would drive away the “leprosy” of child abuse that was infecting the “house” of Catholicism.

“I find this state of affairs intolerable,” he said.

Pope Francis said his advisers at the Vatican had given him the 2 per cent estimate, which included “priests, bishops and cardinals”.

He also warned of much greater figures for people who were aware of the existence of abuse – sometimes within their own families – but who stayed silent because of corruption or fear.

Read the full article at The Independent: One in 50 priests are paedophiles

Wake Up Vatican: The Scandal of Sexual Abuse by Priests is Far From Over

SNAP protestors

Once again the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has loudly and clearly insisted that the Vatican and Pope Francis remove all priest child abusers and report them to local law enforcement.

The committee further insisted the Vatican open all associated records so that Bishops and other church officials who have contributed to the problem of priest abuse can be held accountable.

This second announcement came May 23, 2014 and this time around, the U.N. added something very startling to the ongoing debate, it said that the crimes abusive priests inflict upon child victims amount to torture.

Vatican did not like this assertion and immediately issued a statement saying that their actions did not violate the anti-torture treaty. In response came a rebuke from Felice Gaer, the committee’s vice chairwoman. “You have the answer in front of you.”

Admitting that rape and sexual violation of children often equates to torture may help victims achieve justice. In many countries the statutes of limitations make it impossible for victims to pursue their cases in courts. There are no statutes of limitations when it comes to torture. Still, it will be a difficult legal road for victims of sexual abuse by priests to travel.

In the May 23rd statement the U.N. committee also reiterated its position that the Vatican is responsible for all priests, the good ones and the bad ones. If this were not the case, then how could the Vatican continue to protect Jozef Wesolowski, who has been accused of sexual abuse in the Dominican Republic? The archbishop was transferred to the Vatican, where he is under investigation. The Vatican resisted applications for his extradition to Poland, his native country.

I wish we could believe, as the Vatican and Pope Francis would like us to, that these devastating crimes against children are “part of the past.” But let us face the truth – these crimes have not stopped, they are still going on, NOW. And so these crimes will be part of the future too, as victims find their voices and the strength to come forward. This can take several years, as was the case in my own life.

I was 52 years old before the protective walls my subconscious had built around the pain of abuse came tumbling down and I could face the fact that at age seven my parish priest raped me. Ask anyone who has been raped or tortured how long it took them to come to terms with the terrible crime and they will tell you it was a very long time before they could face and talk about it.

Most Catholics would like to think this era of priest abuse in the Church is behind us. The silence today does not mean that the ongoing sexual violation and torture of children is over. The truth is, it continues, and it will be some time before all victims’ voices catch up with their pain and ability to speak out.

Catholic officials try desperately to claim this crisis is in the past. It is not. Clergy sex crimes and cover-ups are still happening on a nearly daily basis—locally and globally. Here are just a few recent cases of alleged clergy sex crimes from 2012 to 2014: In St. Louis, Father Joseph Jiang, faced new charges of sexually violating a boy and sexually abusing a teenage girl. In Davis, California, Father Hector Coria was arrested for “Unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor and oral copulation.” In San Juan, Puerto Rico, a suspended priest was arrested by federal authorities for allegedly transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity and sexual trafficking of minors. In Sacramento, California, Father Uriel Ojeda admitted to sexually abusing a girl beginning when she was 13 years old.

We have a great opportunity to protect the children of today from a lifetime of living with the terrible effects of priest abuse. It’s a time to be vigilant, not passive, to blow the whistle and report priests who cross boundaries to civil authorities. I wish it were over. It is not. Until it is, organizations such as the UN and Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) will continue to fight for the an end to the epidemic and for the healing of victims.